How to arrange to balloon
To celebrate your special occasion, call (251) 970-FLYU (3598), or visit gulfviewballooning.com. Also, don’t miss the 10th annual Gulf Coast Hot Air Balloon Festival on June 13-14, in Foley, which attracts more than 50 balloonists from around the country.
If you have leisure time, stay overnight at Magnolia Springs Bed and Breakfast and eat at Jesse’s. But, first-hand, ballooning, by itself, is the best way around here, to get up, and away.
The Balloonist’s Prayer
The winds have welcomed you with softness.
The sun has blessed you with warm hands.
You have flown so high and so well,
that God has joined you in your laughter
and He has set you gently back again
into the loving arms of Mother Earth.
If hot air ballooning is on your bucket list, then making memories is just a day trip away in the Gulf Shores region of Magnolia Springs, Alabama.
Baldwin County native Tommy Rache, an FAA-licensed pilot, and owner of Taking Off Hot Air Balloon Company, will guide you on this humbling adventure, accented by awesome views of the surrounding Mobile Bay, hawks flying high below you and lush working countryside that you won’t forget for a lifetime.
Rachel puts the safety of flights first, and since ballooning is extremely weather-dependent, morning trips ground by 9:30 a.m. and evening flights take off three hours before sunset, when winds are less than 10 miles-per-hour, year-round. Because summer can be hazy, it’s worth waiting for a good winter day, especially if it turns out to be one of 10 per year clear enough to see Dauphin Island, Pelican Bay and Florida, Mississippi, and Alabama. Sights also include the freshwater Lake Shelby, separated from the Gulf by a narrow strip of sand.
Your trip starts by choosing location and letting off a helium balloon, which will fly in the same direction as your hot air balloon, so Rachel can plan the longest possible flight. Since there are no moving parts on a balloon except two propane burners, you then get the pleasure of assisting with the labor required to lift off.
You are asked to hold open the throat of the balloon, or envelope, while the basket lays horizontal and the crew cold packs, or inflates, the balloon using a fan. Next, Tommy fires the first, of 18 million BTU burners. The envelope weighs 225 pounds and a propane-loaded basket weighs 450 pounds. When it inflates around you, it is a breathtaking process. Upright, his balloon, “Hope Floats,” stands 70 feet tall.
Next, you’re off the ground before you remember to look down! A gauge inside the basket shows whether you are ascending or descending at 200 feet per minute. The pilot controls this by making burns, which sends livestock scattering. Tommy can spin the basket, but it is ultimately at the mercy of Mother Nature, making every ride different. Low-contour flying allows for the thrill of skimming treetops. Landing is bouncy, but is always on soft sod. Following flight, you and the crew roll up the envelope.
Tommy says that fighter pilots, who have ballooned with him, were “tickled,” and my fellow passenger said it was “tied for the most fun thing ever.” Finally, there is a champagne peace offering honoring the Montgolfier brothers, inventors of the first hot air balloon.